Ask a Physicist!

john-tyndall-physicist-bigFor more than a generation journalists have thought nothing of getting the political, sociological and economic opinions of musicians. Countless musicians have, in return, given great weight to their opinions and what it means for their work. It’s now never enough to be able to say “I specialize in a form of nonverbal emotional communication that transcends the boundaries of race, class and nation” – they must also offer their opinions and solutions on multifaceted geopolitical issues.

And so we end up with a collection of opinions which are no more likely to be more thorough or accurate than your average non-musician, but are given great weight and esteem.

Despite this trend, music journalists rarely seek out non-musicians and get their opinions on music – theory, practice, business, style, whatever – as ill-informed as they may be on these disparate and complicated subjects.

I think this is a travesty.

A travesty I would like to correct with SCIENCE!

Thoreau is the nomme de bloggeur of a physicist of physics. He sat down (at a computer far, far away from here) to answer some questions.

Q: Football players often have a mixtape that gets them “pumped up” before their games (mine was “Reign in Blood” by Slayer). As a physicist, if you’re about to get all Olivia Newton John on a problem (i.e. physical), do you have a track or mix that gets you in the brain zone?

A: “Lose yourself” by Eminem.

Q: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard a musician say or sing about physics? What’s the best?

A: Worst: “That’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit: I’m traveling at the speed of light!” I mean, even if going at the speed of light were possible, what does that have to do with temperature? And Queen is European, they should know better than to use Fahrenheit. Best: Either They Might Be Giants singing “The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace” or that Monty Python song from the end of “The Meaning of Life” about the galaxy and solar system. The data in that song is actually pretty accurate.

Q: What’s the most physicist-y instrument?

A: Violins, because we use violin strings as standard examples of vibrations in every freshman class.

Q: Richard Feynman played bongos, did ketamine in a Lilly tank and was apparently a bit of a cad – are physicists like every other American in their desire to be a rock star philosopher king with a harem of skanks?

A: Yeah, when it comes down to it we all yearn to be philosopher kings over our harems. But like every other over-educated and under-paid denizen of suburbia, we fall short of that fantasy. Well, except this one colleague of mine, who parties in a garden paradise tucked away in an obscure corner of the ghetto. But he’s getting married soon, so that will come to an end.

Q: Have you ever heard anything so good you said “Damn, I can only express this as an equation!” and then proceeded to do so? If so, what was the equation?

A: No, but once in college I was staring at a chick walking in the opposite direction, except a tree was in the way, and even though we were both walking the tree stayed in the way because we were walking with equal and opposite velocities. So, v(me) = -v(her)

Q: Let’s say if someone wanted to seduce a physicist, what would be a good song to pick for a lovetastic slow jam?

A: Either Feynman’s bongo recordings, or something orchestral.

Q: Have you ever wanted to punch into a musician’s ribcage and pull out their still-beating heart to show it to them before they die because they misused Kuhn’s whole paradigm thing or applied something they read about quantum physics in a magazine to something completely unrelated? If so, whose heart would you most like to remove?

A: I don’t know of too many musicians abusing Kuhn. Most of the Kuhn abusers I’ve encountered were college students with varying levels of lack of musical talent. On quantum mechanics, I know that a lot of the “natural remedies” people will include some sort of quantum babble in their spiel, so if I knew of a musician hawking those remedies I’d pick that musician.

However, if I could pluck out the still-beating heart of any musician, for reasons unrelated to Kuhn, I’d do it to the lead singer for Coldplay. Just because.

Q: Have you ever seen “What the Bleep Do We Know?” It would seem to be to physics what creationism is to biology.

A: No, but I’ve heard about it, and it sounds worse than creationism. At least the creationists have Ben Stein.

Q: If the musicians of the world – nay, the people of the world – could learn just one thing about physics, what would it be? Can you fit it on a bumper sticker? (Otherwise you’re fucked.)

A: Either “Soylent Green is made of atoms!” or “Most of physics is better than string theory!” For some reason, everybody thinks that the problems facing string theory mean that all of physics is in trouble. No, it just means that string theorists are in danger of getting voted off our island.


Filed under music

6 responses to “Ask a Physicist!

  1. Pingback: That’s just, like, my opinion, man! § Unqualified Offerings

  2. The world needs more physicist music reviewers.

  3. the world will just have to settle for another amateur internet ethnographer.

  4. smacky

    Friggin’ awesome. :)

  5. smacky

    Also: I was at a cello workshop last weekend and one part of it featured a “The Physics of Cello” demonstration that was pretty neat. The presenter talked about concepts like frequency, pitch, their relation to octaves, etc. and used the screen refresh of a television as an oscilloscope to drop-tune the cello to 60hz, which, IIRC, is approximately B flat. Neat stuff, but don’t ask me to explain everything he was showing us. I barely pulled through high school physics with a C.

  6. music makes math a lot more sensible.

    not sure what that makes math rock.

    future features will include bothering a mathematician about math rock.

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